The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) has reacted to the recent conviction and subsequent order setting aside the conviction of Abdulrasheed Bawa, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for contempt of court.
It would be recalled that a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court convicted Bawa, the EFCC chairman for contempt of court following the failure of the agency to comply with a court order asking it to return a Range Rover and the sum of N40 million to the applicant in a suit.
In her ruling, Justice Chizoba Oji held that Bawa had committed contempt of the orders of the court made on November 21, 2018.
The judge also ordered the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to ensure compliance to the court order by putting Bawa in Kuje Prison.
Mr. Ojuawo had, in the motion filed by his lawyer, R. N. Ojabo, in a suit marked: FCT/HC/CR/184/2016 argued that the EFCC refused to comply with the order for the release of his seized property, made by the court in a judgment delivered on November 21, 2018.
But, barely 48 hours later, the court nullified its earlier order
In the application dated November 10, Bawa cited relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution and procedural laws of the court, urging the judge to quash his conviction.
Ms Oji said, “I hereby set aside the entire contempt proceedings in Suit No. FCT/HC/CR/184/2016 between the Federal Republic of Nigeria v AVM Rufus Adeniyi Ojuawo.
“That I further set aside the conviction of the applicant, the Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, for contempt unconditionally.”
CACOL, in its statement issued by its chairman, Comrade Debo Adeniran, said it had observed with keen interest the role played by the various dramatis personae in this matter and its implications on the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
It stressed: “We would like to make it crystal clear that it will be counterproductive to continue to disgrace Chairmen of anti-corruption agencies out of office.
“The conviction of Abdulrasheed Bawa was contrived because most of the allegations levelled against him were beyond him.
“We also believed that all the efforts he had made aimed at sanitising our country of corruption should not be discountenanced.
“For example, the EFCC under Bawa, recently secured a court order for interim forfeitures of 40 assets traced to the former Senate Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, which EFCC claimed were allegedly acquired with proceeds of fraud.
“The EFCC under his leadership also secured a final forfeiture order of two Abuja properties and two luxury cars belonging to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison Maduekwe.
“After staking all, including his own life and convenience, it sounds so funny that on mere charges of non-return of seized properties suspected to be proceeds of corruption, should be the reason he should go to jail, even if he made a genuine mistake, he should be forgiven based on the fact that the nature of his job entails such.
“We also know that he did not confiscate the properties concerned and used it for himself, rather the properties were confiscated for national interest.
“It is a known fact that when anyone sets out to fight corruption, either as an organisation or an individual, it is most certain that corruption will fight back.
“In as much as we will not support the EFCC in particular, or any agency of government in general, to flout court orders, so as not to lead the country into an abyss of lawlessness, disorder and anarchy, we would, however, implore the judiciary to always be meticulous and pay attention to details before giving orders, especially when the issue of corruption is involved.
“It is also a known fact that corruption is virulent and anyone who has amassed ill-gotten wealth will do all within his or her disposal to cover his or her track and thereby prevent justice from taking its course.”
CACOL added: “We were surprised by the earlier judgment of the court convicting the EFCC chairman, but we were even more flabbergasted by the later decision of the same court within 48 hours timeframe setting aside its earlier judgment.
“We are, therefore, inclined to come to the conclusion that it is either the court did not listen to both parties before making its earlier order, or the judge played to the gallery and acted on impulse which negates the principle of fair hearing.
“The exalted members of the bench should take cognisance of the fact that their judgments today will serve as precedents in future and a reference point for legal jurisprudence even many years after they have gone.
“In order for the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies to be effective, they need to step up the ante by making stigmatising examples of culprits of corrupt and sharp conducts through diligent investigations, thorough prosecution, confiscation of properties and real time convictions in the court of law.
“This will not only serve as a deterrent, but also a striking stigma against corruption, signaling the absolute dedication of the government to vanquish corruption.”